Hiraeth: Partition stories from 1947
Author-Dr. Shivani Salil
Publications-ArtoonsInn room9 Publications
The book, a collection of 24 stories, is set in the tumultuous backdrop of partition, with mobs—both Hindus and Muslims grappling with the brutal realities of abandoning their home.
There are communal riots, people are being butchered, land and valuables pillaged and plundered, women raped, and children persecuted and tortured. The air crackles with intense horror; the sight and odor of deceit, duplicity, and betrayal are rampant as men crumble to the ground in gnarled clusters.
The earth they called their mother—their native land suddenly becomes fraught with dangers, brimming with adversaries out for blood. Amidst the tumult, however, there is tenderness, kindness, tolerance, and warmth only if one looks deep enough.
This thread makes the frail yet complex fabric for Dr. Salil’s poignant, rich and memorable stories.
Inspired by true events, narrated with subtle finesse and keen perception, these stories have their roots entrenched deep in the soil at the border of India and Pakistan. Like tree boughs growing simultaneously in different directions, the characters and their life stories thrust out, criss-cross, and end up in refugee camps, railway stations, deserted, dilapidated bungalows, and places of worship.
The protagonists, Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims, in the equal majority, grace the stories with delicate poise, bringing a unique color and cultural nuance. Dr. Salil sketches her characters with tragic vulnerability, flaws, and shortcomings, making them endearing and realistic.
Gracious use of sublime Urdu and Sikh poetry and gorgeous Poshto, Punjabi, Hindi dialogues accentuate the local flavor. The stories are tastefully titled, ranging alphabetically from A to Z, denoting a spectrum of emotions: melancholy, yearning for the homeland, grief, joy, and even bliss.
Some stories cut deeper than a scalpel, and there are those which heal, inspire, and unite.
My favorite pieces are Hiraeth, Izzat, Jazbaat, Ghiza, Kulfat, and Quam.
The review of the book will remain incomplete if I don’t mention the stunning cover.
Designed by Dr. Banga, the cover image depicts an intense lightning bolt splitting a tree trunk in two, severing and tearing it apart from the inside out. The strike runs vertically, ending just above the ground, leaving the roots untouched. However, the damage is done; the tree will survive but remain scarred for life—destined to decay and decline with time, just like some of the characters in the book.
Long after finishing the stories, I gawked at the cover, expecting it somehow to quieten the vortex of emotions the stories churned. And as if on cue, the image morphed right before my eyes, revealing layers I didn’t know existed.
The tree’s branches that I thought looked like split maps of India and Pakistan transformed into silhouettes of teary-eyed people facing each other. The first thought it evoked was how neighbors had become sworn enemies, ripped apart by a sudden, catastrophic disaster they couldn’t control; they are the same yet different. Close yet so far apart.
The image is powerful, unsettling, and melancholic, speaking volumes about the stories tucked in its seams.
Rewarding, heart-rending, vivid, and visual.
Dr. Salil takes you back in time and plunges you right in the middle of riveting tension, contrived hatred, and monstrous villainy. The stories break something inside you and make you want to curl up and cry a little.
The insight into human nature—the display of exceptional courage, unapologetic dignity, and steely nerves in the face of absolute devastation makes for a moving narrative.
Heartwarming, poignant, vibrant
Rewarding, heart-rending, vivid, and visual. Dr. Salil takes you back in time and pummels you right in the middle of riveting tension, contrived hatred, and monstrous villainy. No wonder the stories break something inside you, make you want to curl up and cry a little. Highly recommended. The insight into human nature-the courage, the nerves in the absolute devastation makes for a moving narrative.